Courageous Reds Denied by Questionable Refereeing
While not necessarily a disastrous result for either side, neither set of supporters would’ve been overjoyed with a draw before the game. Throughout the game though, you would forgive any fan for taking a draw at various stages, like a Leicester fan cashing out of a bet in late 2015/16. Liverpool took the lead in the third minute when Mo Salah pounced on an Eric Dier mistake. The Reds were teasing another high profile thrashing, but it was Spurs who went on to dominate the majority of the remaining minutes. Liverpool, uncharacteristically, sat deep and invited Spurs to advance, and despite a few hairy moments were able to repel most attacks. Victor Wanyama’s booming effort inevitably levelled the scores and seemed to crush any hopes of a Liverpool victory. A mistake by Dejan Lovren let an offside Harry Kane through who appeared to dive over a Loris Karius challenge to win a penalty. Karius saved the penalty to spare the Reds from conceding a goal that never should’ve stood anyway, but Salah went one better, scoring a magical goal in the 91st minute to give Liverpool a hard-fought if somewhat undeserved win. The officials weren’t finished though and belatedly awarded Erik Lamela a penalty after he theatrically fell to the ground from minimal contact by Virgil Van Dijk. Kane scored his 100th Premier League goal, much to Liverpool’s fury and heartbreak.
Loris Karius – 8: A remarkable and admirable night from a ‘keeper under immense pressure where the only reasonable criticism of him could be his inconsistent distribution. Consistently dealt with Spurs’ attacks, making some crucial saves, including denying Heung-Min Son and Kane in one-on-one situations. Karius has received some criticism for punching the ball into the path of Wanyama for the first goal, but this critique is misguided. He couldn’t risk catching the ball as Lamela was waiting a yard away, ready to pounce on any mistake, and his punching clearance managed to clear the ball at least 25 yards away, it was just unfortunate it fell to a Tottenham player who caught the ball perfectly. His penalty heroics against Kane were unjustly undone by poor officiating. If Karius can maintain this level of form and confidence, he may retain his place in goal beyond this season.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 7.5: A surprise return to the first-team for the youngster, given Joe Gomez’s excellent form, but the academy player was virtually faultless throughout. TAA took a hefty challenge early from Ben Davies which might’ve warranted a yellow card, but the young lad didn’t shy away and responded with a few stern tackles of his own. His crossing was mostly superb and on another day could’ve had an assist to his name. It is becoming increasingly difficult to pick who Liverpool’s starting right-back should be.
Dejan Lovren – 7: Lovren produced another fine display and was capable in the air. He had to deal with a lot of pressure throughout the game, and despite one hiccup, was mostly steadfast. Unfortunately, the one mistake in question was quite poor and did lead to a penalty, but he has done enough to continue being picked as Van Dijk’s partner.
Virgil Van Dijk – 8: Another player who had an excellent game undone by one error, only in Van Dijk’s case, there’s an argument to be made that it was instead the linesman who was at fault. For 99% of the game, he was a towering leader at the back and was displaying exactly why Jurgen Klopp paid so much for him. For the penalty, Lamela jumped in front of him from behind as he was swinging for the ball, and the big Dutchman even pulled out, but Lamela was successful in seeking minimal contact and threw himself to the ground.
Andy Robertson – 7: You could almost copy and paste analysis’ of Robertson’s performances over the past weeks, another solid game. The only criticism that could be attributed to him was that his crossing was unusually poor on the night. Did well to force Spurs to mostly focus their attacks down the right-hand-side as they were unprepared to allow Trippier to continue to be bested by our Robbo.
Jordan Henderson – 6: Henderson was deservedly picked to start this game after his strong showing against Huddersfield, but in hindsight, it may not have been the best decision. Through no fault of his own, Henderson was restricted to a simple game of sweeping up second balls and recycling possession. His lack of game time was his greatest downfall as his fatigue began to show and the likes of Dele Alli and Son took advantage of it. He also could’ve done more to contest the midfield battle as Tottenham spent large portions of the game parked in Liverpool’s half.
Emre Can – 6.5: Can fared slightly better than his captain in the midfield, but was similarly unable to halt the Spurs onslaught. It is puzzling that the midfield trio that was picked struggled so badly in this regard, given they are undoubtedly Liverpool’s best defensive-minded midfielders.
James Milner – 6: Milner was strangely selected as the most advanced of the midfield three, despite being considerably slower than the other two. Many were expecting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Gini Wijnaldum to take his place for this game, but Milner hardly let his team down by anyone’s reckoning. His biggest downfall was that he, like Henderson faded as the game went on and Spurs were able to capitalise on that. He was also guilty of giving away some silly fouls in dangerous positions, unusual for the experienced England international.
Sadio Mane – 6: Poor Mane. He always seems so close to rediscovering his form, and yet it just eludes him. His pace and movement again caused problems throughout and he could’ve gone through on goal late in the first half if Salah’s pass was better. To be fair though, he also cost Salah a chance when his wayward pass took the wind out of the sails of a counter-attack in the second half. Desperately needs goals to help him push through this mental block he’s having.
Mo Salah – 8 (Man of the Match): Some players only stand up when everything is going right for them and their team, not Salah. He was able to score two vital goals for his team when they needed him most, and moreover, when he wasn’t at his individual best. For most of the game, barring the goals, Salah didn’t produce anything to worry the likes of Jan Vertonghen. His second goal will go down as one of the very best of the season, despite its status as a match winner being unfairly stripped away.
Roberto Firmino – 6: A rare subdued performance from Liverpool’s number 9. In fairness to him, he received minimal service and was reduced to doing the donkey’s work of chasing down Tottenham’s back line, but he seemed far from his best even when he did receive the ball.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (on for Mane – 64′) – 4: This time around The Ox was given plenty of time to make an impact, but failed to do so. He was incredibly wasteful in possession and arguably could’ve reacted quicker in the build-up to Wanyama’s equaliser.
Gini Wijnaldum (on for Henderson – 64′) – 4: Had the same amount of game time as The Ox but did even less of note. No impact.
Joel Matip (on for Milner – 78′) – 6: Came on to sure up Liverpool’s defence and did his job to a satisfactory degree despite the end result.
Unused Subs: Simon Mignolet, Alberto Moreno, Dominic Solanke, Danny Ings
Jurgen Klopp – 8: Klopp’s lineup and tactics could not be faulted for this game, at least not in the build-up to it. Through the benefit of hindsight, the argument could be made that he should’ve known that Henderson and Milner would not be able to keep up with the pace of such a fierce game given their lack of game time. When his side began to tire though, he swiftly brought on fresh legs to try and reclaim the midfield. He cannot be blamed for his substitutions inability to do so, and other individual errors, particularly from the referees. Was rightly furious at the officials during and after the game, but admirably managed to keep his cool and avoid retrospective action in the post-game press conference.
Diving Spurs and Bottling Officials
Of course, few Liverpool fans could seriously argue that Liverpool should have walked away with all three points given the respective performances of both sides. It’s unquestionable that Spurs dominated the majority of the game and that Liverpool were mostly on the back foot. That doesn’t change the fact though that Liverpool fought bravely and were ultimately undone by a lucky strike from a defensive-midfielder not known for his ability to shoot and an awful decision from a linesman. The referee, who had a better view of the incident, called for play to continue until the linesman appealed to overturn his decision. Even the officials can’t be entirely blamed for bottling the decisions. The Spurs players were consistently trying to deceive them including Kane, Lamela and Alli who was booked for blatant simulation. Knowing that they were continuously doing this and even more so in the desperate final stages, it is baffling that the linesman gave a decision like that in a situation that was 50/50 at best.
Calls For VAR
Whenever incidents of this nature occur in a high-profile game, legions of furious fans demanding VAR follow. I am, generally speaking, not one of them, as I believe the system has the potential to cause more problems that it solves, but it is difficult to hold that position when your own team has been so clearly wronged. Even former referees and former Spurs players, including Howard Webb and Jermaine Jenas respectively, questioned the decision when viewing the replay in the aftermath of the game. Perhaps after the season finishes, I will write a full article discussing the pros and cons of VAR, but it is not clear as of this moment whether VAR would’ve changed this particular decision. There was contact, albeit minimal, so despite common sense dictating an overturn of the decision, I’m not sure there would’ve been enough evidence to do so by the books.
The Road Ahead and Battle for Top-Four
As stated earlier, a draw against Tottenham is not a disaster by any means, but it does mean that Liverpool have reduced the margin for error somewhat. Instead of being four points clear of them, the Reds are only two points ahead with 12 games remaining. Spurs will not be slowing down as they seek to gain a crucial place in next year’s Champions League. Arsenal too will fancy their chances as they recruited well in January and produced an outstanding display on the weekend. Luckily though, Chelsea are in poor form and their heavy defeat against Watford sees Liverpool retain 3rd place, ahead by one point. Liverpool’s last-16 matches against FC Porto in the Champions League loom on the horizon as Klopp will need to start rotating his squad to achieve the best results. Liverpool’s upcoming league games include Southampton (Away), West Ham (Home), Newcastle (Home), followed by another fixture which could shape the top four, Manchester United (Away).
You’ll Never Walk Alone
Cieren O’Dea for Red Or Dead – Liverpool FC Football Blog – on 06/02/2018.